Gillian Barry, Head of Innovation & Enterprise at LIT, talks about paying it forward and how to build an innovation system between industry, higher education, government and the people of Limerick. 

What’s your role?

Head of Innovation and Enterprise at LIT.

What interests you the most?

I have a passion for innovation, design and technology and helping entrepreneurs through the most critical stages of their startup journey or supporting business leaders and their teams through their innovation and business improvement journeys. I’m passionate also about community, social and economic development and I work with numerous organisations to support growth in our regions. I also have a real interest in psychology and sociology.

“For every high-value job created five other jobs are formed in the economy.”

What are your ambitions?

This might sound far-fetched, but my ambition is to help make our region and country one of the best place in the world to live. I know I can’t do anything about the weather, but I can help ambitious, creative, entrepreneurial people to create great companies, impactful products and services and ultimately create jobs which help to improve the lives not just of their direct employees, but they have an impact downstream too. For every high-value job created five other jobs are formed in the economy. I can help a little and appreciating it takes a community to support any ambitious entrepreneur I am delighted to be part of that. I can also help our fantastic youth and social organisations to make an impact in our region. I believe that every little does help and we need to make it a goal and give all these organisations our time – pay it forward – work it into your goals. We all benefit.

What drives you?

I’m a highly positive person and get energy from creative people with ambitions as wild as my own. I get excited when the work we can do together can make an impact – small or big. When I worked in technology consultancy firms earlier in my career, I loved to see the positive changes we could make in the companies we worked with, so I think I’ve always had this drive – its great to be able to direct it now to support aspiring entrepreneurs.

“There is a concept called the ‘Triple Helix’, and I think we are becoming a leader in this area.”

Who do you admire in business?

This is a difficult one because there are so many inspirational people and I work with so many people who are hardworking, great listeners (makes it easier for our mentors and advisors) and who give back. That is what is admirable – work hard and build a great company but don’t forget to pay it forward. However, I’ll share two key influencers of mine at the moment – check out Robert Kegan (he does some really interesting stuff on leadership), and Clayton Christensen – disruptive innovation and he has a really interesting theory on the sustaining economies.

What are we doing well in Limerick?

In terms of regional economic development, we are getting really (really) good at building a highly functional innovation system. There is a concept called the ‘Triple Helix’, and I think we are becoming a leader in this area. Simply put, the Triple Helix is the interaction between UL/LIT/MIC (the HEIs), industry and government with each fulfilling their traditional roles but also “take the role of the other” performing new roles with a high level of communication and collaboration between them. Institutions taking non-traditional roles are viewed as a significant potential source of innovation. Examples include Limerick for Engineering and Limerick for IT with industry-leading initiatives to promote opportunities for education together with the HEIs and enabled through government initiatives like Springboard.

We have Innovate Limerick to help drive innovation opportunities between companies, HEIs and local or national government.

The level of collaboration and communication is already excellent and getting better. The government is providing some of the best tools to enable innovation between the triple helix players. The relationships we have with all the players is evident now in how well our region is growing.

“We are like Munster Rugby in many ways. We thrived as the underdogs.”

What way could the city improve?

We need to continue to build our relationships and find more ways to interact regarding R&D and entrepreneurship and continue to feedback to the government to help influence our region’s future.

We also must support social and environmental development. Environmental, I am on the executive committee of the Limerick Civic Trust who, with a voluntary board, do fantastic work in the city helping to protect our heritage and to make the region a great, fun, interactive place to live – just check out their projects on their website – you’ll be surprised.

I am the chairperson of The Learning Hub, and they do incredible work, and we see this with so many organisations in the city. Many were hit hard by the recession, but with the focus on job creation up to now, there hasn’t been the kind of funding and support needed for these great organisations. The general public has been inspirational, but I do think we can do more to support our citizens in need, to nurture our young people with so much potential to reach that potential. If you have time please do check out LearningHub.ie who have supported 15,000 children in the last ten years with over 100,000 hours of volunteering from LIT/UL/MIC students.

“I remember one time someone asked a group to write their Oscar speech forcing them to look into the future.”

Health and wellbeing are so important, and it should be the top of everyone’s agenda. At the recent Limerick Chamber Business Awards under the Best Employer category, it was fantastic to hear about the initiatives that companies are undertaking to promote health and wellbeing at work. I hope we continue to see more of that. The companies win, and the employees and their families gain. Our region wins too because people stay here.

We also need to keep embracing culture, music and sport. I love our city and region and often we are not a tourist in our own town but there are some really cool things to do and great places to eat.

What makes Limerick unique?

I remember one time someone asked a group to write their Oscar speech forcing them to look into the future – to imagine in 20 years’ time they won the Oscar (just an analogy for something they wanted to achieve) and they are making the speech – how did you make it? I think for Limerick it might go something like this: We are like Munster Rugby in many ways. We thrived as the underdogs, but we had the best teams in the world who were inspired and hard working. They went above and beyond, to continue to develop a great city and region. We created a great ‘innovation system’ between industry, the HEIs, government and its citizens and together through collaboration, open networks and communication systems we grew our region. We raised the bar for everyone living in Limerick and across our region making it one of the best places in the world to live in. #LimerickAndProud.

Interview questions by Pat Carroll. 

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